There was a sign posted on a wall of St. Thomas More school in Bel-Nor, Mo, entitled, “Lest we forget.” It was a short list—a reminder—of what “we” students believed and how these beliefs should guide our behavior.
I often stared at that sign over my school years. Call it habit, but even today I look for such signs when seeking truth in the midst of turmoil. What is American greatness?
Today, there’s a sign on an overpass near my home that answers that question best. I smile and say a prayer each time I drive by Thomas E. Burnett Jr. Memorial Bridge. It eclipses time and re-sets reality in an instant. Lest we forget.
The Burnetts were neighbors. Parishioners. Fellow Americans. We shared a belief in something bigger than this world.
Deena has since written a book about her experience titled, Fighting Back. It’s the story of finding purpose and the will to go on to raise her 3 beautiful young daughters without her husband, Tom. He was killed in the downing of flight 93 during the attacks of 9/11.
Here’s an excerpt of Deena’s last conversation with her husband, Tom. This is American greatness. Thank you, Tom, for your patriotism, faith and the courage to act.
Transcript of Tom’s Last Calls to Deena
6:45 a.m. (Pacific time) Third cell phone call from Tom to Deena
Deena: Tom, you’re O.K. (Deena thought at this point that he had just survived the Pentagon plane crash).
Tom: No, I’m not.
Deena: They just hit the Pentagon.
Tom: (tells people sitting around him “They just hit the Pentagon.”)
Tom: O.K. O.K. What else can you tell me?
Deena: They think five airplanes have been hijacked. One is still on the ground. They believe all of them are commercial planes. I haven’t heard them say which airline, but all of them have originated on the east coast.
Tom: Do you know who is involved?
Tom: What is the probability of their having a bomb on board? I don’t think they have one. I think they’re just telling us that for crowd control.
Deena: A plane can survive a bomb if it’s in the right place.
Tom: Did you call the authorities?
Deena: Yes, they didn’t know anything about your plane.
Tom: They’re talking about crashing this plane into the ground. We have to do something. I’m putting a plan together.
Deena: Who’s helping you?
Tom: Different people. Several people. There’s a group of us. Don’t worry. I’ll call you back.
6:54 a.m. Fourth cell phone call from Tom to Deena
Tom: Hi. Anything new?
Tom: Where are the kids?
Deena: They’re fine. They’re sitting at the table having breakfast. They’re asking to talk to you.
Tom: Tell them I’ll talk to them later.
Deena: I called your parents. They know your plane has been hijacked.
Tom: Oh… you shouldn’t have worried them. How are they doing?
Deena: They’re O.K. Mary and Martha are with them.
(a long quiet pause)
Tom: We’re waiting until we’re over a rural area. We’re going to take back the airplane.
Deena: No! Sit down, be still, be quiet, and don’t draw attention to yourself! (The exact words taught to Deena by Delta Airlines Flight Attendant Training).
Tom: Deena! If they’re going to crash this plane into the ground we’re going to have do something!
Deena: What about the authorities?
Tom: We can’t wait for the authorities. I don’t know what they could do anyway.
It’s up to us. I think we can do it.
Deena: What do you want me to do?
Tom: Pray, Deena, just pray.
(after a long pause)
Deena: I love you.
Tom: Don’t worry, we’re going to do something.
Transcript from the Tom Burnett Family Foundation. See the entire transcript here.